Kim Callinan for Augusta Free Press: “Religious freedom at life’s end: An aspiration that’s worth the fight”

February 21, 2023

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January 16th marks Religious Freedom Day. While people’s spiritual beliefs take on heightened meaning at the end of their life, religious freedom at this time is unfortunately an aspiration, not a reality. A Jan. 4 study in the Journal of American Medical Association, found that an overwhelming 71% of Americans believe that personal decisions about their health should take priority over a healthcare facility’s religious values. Unfortunately, at life’s end, religious institutions often dictate care decisions, regardless of the patient’s preferences.

This harsh reality is particularly true in Catholic health systems, which comprise nearly 80 percent of religious health systems, and whose Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) are among the most restrictive and vigorously enforced when it comes to end of life care.  While many Catholic health systems provide excellent, compassionate care overall, at the end of life they force too many patients to endure care inconsistent with, and many times directly contradictory to, their own values. …

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